If you have caught yourself verbalizing "I'm not flexible enough to go to yoga class", then this passage is for you to read. Besides that being a long term excuse you might tell yourself to continue to avoid the mat, you're going to learn 7 more myths about yoga you need to UNLEARN NOW!
Myth: I must be flexible to go to yoga
"I can't touch my toes when I bend over!" Ok, and that means what? You're disqualified from ever going to a yoga class? Hell no! Believe it or not, you do not have to be flexible to go and take a yoga class. The opposite is actually true. You can be stiff as heck and still go to class. Yoga teachers are trained to work with many different body types (yours included) that possess different abilities. Did you know you can use a chair for your downward dog pose if you have extremely tight hamstrings? You can also put a deep bend in your knees as you fold forward. Now while even with these modifications you may not still touch your toes, you will start the process of loosening up your hamstrings and lower back as you breathe and flow through class. Yoga helps create flexibility, the lack of it before you start an asana (physical) practice is not a disqualification. The more you breathe, flow, and move consistently, the more your body will naturally release tension and open up to become more flexible.
Myth: Only skinny women and fit men can do yoga
Excuse you? Did you think that only skinny women and fit men did yoga? Every BODY is a yoga BODY! After 9 years being a yogi and 3 of those being an instructor myself, I can confirm with confidence that every type of body is a yoga body. You can be short and curvy, tall and thin, medium and round, or even carry over 150 lbs of extra weight on your body and still do yoga. Because guess what? Yoga isn't confined to being a practice that is limited to physical movement. Yoga isn't only to be practiced by those who fit into conventional beauty standards. If you are an awake and aware conscious human, you can do yoga. Yoga at its' core is a breath practice used to unite you with your body, mind, and spirit. You can do yoga in a hospital bed, in a wheelchair, or even from bed at home. The physical movements (asana practice) are commonly used in conjunction with the breath practice, yet yoga ISN'T limited to ONLY the physical practice. Kapalabhati (breath of fire), Ujayi (Victorious Ocean breath), and even Nadi Shodana (Alternate nostril breathing, provided your arms are mobile) are yoga practices and can be done no matter what condition your body is in. They will still move energy in your body in a significant way that is immediately noticed. It is quite common to have physical therapists, sports medicine specialists, medical doctors, naturopaths, etc to recommend a physical yoga practice to their clients in the event of an injury to: help promote proper alignment as healing occurs, improve overall mobility with low risk of re-injury, and to increase flexibility. Injuries or need for safe movement are typically what bring people to their first community yoga class. So long as you can sit, stand, and roll over to your side, you can go to a yoga class. If you go to a community class, simply let your instructor know about any injuries you may have and let them know it's your first class.
Myth: Yoga is a Difficult Sport
Yoga isn't a sport at all, truth be told. The commodification of yoga in the Western world has developed into a sector most would think of as a sport comparable to pilates, yet it's not. Yoga can absolutely be used to increase athletic performance if that's what you want to use the physical practice for. But let's be clear, yoga isn't a sport. It's a practice that comes off of your mat. Did you know original yoga "classes" were community members that united in sacred circles and practiced controlling the breath? (Ex: Breath of Fire) That's how yoga started. Over time, in order to help the younger children and teen practitioners stay grounded during a yoga practice, movements mimicking or inspired by Mother Nature were created and added to the breath practice in sequences we know of today as asana practices. Common names of yoga poses that ring a bell are "downward dog", "lizard pose", "frog pose", "tree pose", "triangle pose". All mimicking the natural shapes of Mother Nature. The TRUTH is also that your first community yoga class (provided it's a Vinyasa or Iyengar inspired flow) will likely be difficult because you are doing a dynamic range of movements with your body using muscle groups you've likely never used consciously before. How often before a yoga class have you ever found yourself in a Verbhadrasana II (Warrior 2) pose?
(Photo of Warrior 2 pose)
Myth: Yoga interferes with your religious practice
"Yoga is demonic, and when you practice yoga you are in alliance with the Devil". Whew! I've heard this frequently, and it's a load to unpack. Let's get to it. The yoga that we know today in the Western world isn't what is used to be. Traditionally in India, yoga was a leg of Hinduism used to unite you to higher consciousness, spiritual autonomy, and for internal and external balance. The Gods and Demi-Gods in Hinduism that are weaved into traditional yoga are visual representations mirroring both the natural elements and life's parables. While you can definitely find many yoga studios who honor the traditional Hindu Gods and Demi-Gods in their philosophy, you can find just as many Vinyasa studios who intertwine the Pillars of Yoga in a way that isn't intrusive or conflicting to the core values of major religions such as Christianity, Catholicism, etc. An easily digestable example of a pillar of yoga is "ahimsa", which translates to "nonharm" or "absence of injury". It is a practice of moving through life in a way as to not harm yourself, others, the environment, and nature's creatures. Harming someone, their property, and even animals not intended for nourishment are typically crimes no matter what country you're in; this is simply how "ahimsa" is enforced in the world.
This makes yoga accessible to all, no matter what religion you subscribe to, as yoga teaches Universal truths and invites students to explore what the truth is for THEMSELVES.
As class starts, typically, your teacher will remind you that if there is a message or words in class that do not resonate with you, that you are free to choose a dedication to your practice that does align with you.
Myth: Yoga is only for young healthy people
Umm, I've practiced community yoga classes with 78 year old couples! A physical yoga class is certainly NOT limited to only the young and healthy.
Did you know there are teachers dedicated to teaching yoga to cancer patients in hospitals? Yes, you read that right. Yoga can truly be molded to assist any person, in any stage of life. Even if that stage is in death. We can help calm the body and nervous system as we take our last breath. Yoga has been proven to increase neuroplasticity in the brain, leading to increased ability to learn, better memory function, faster healing from injury, and decreased stress levels. Truly, yoga helps older folks gain their mobility back, maintain their strength, and studies have even show it lowers the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's when practiced consistently. The beauty of yoga is that there is a class or practice for everyone. You can do an entire yoga class and stay in one pose the entire time, laying on your back breathing, and you are still considered a yogi. Pretty cool, right? You can find yoga classes for healthy aging as well. Just google it.
Myth: You cannot be injured and go to Yoga
Well, yes and no. This is highly dependent on the injury, your body's limits, and contraindications for the class you may want to hop into. For obvious reasons, you shouldn't be taking a Power Vinyasa class heavy in arm balances immediately after healing a wrist fracture or broken arm. Choose your class accordingly and check with your doctor before committing to a class while in the delicate healing stage of your journey. Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga, and Light Flow classes are fantastic choices for helping students who may have been injured get back into class. Anything from spinal misalignments, recent surgeries, and muscle spasms, will typically be ok to participate in a gentle and supported class with pose modifications. Your yoga teacher is trained in anatomy and range of motion and will be able to offer you help so as not to cause further injury in addition to following directions for contraindications.
Myth: Men who practice yoga are not masculine
Lawd, where to start? Marketing has warped the view of who does+should be expected to practice yoga. Images of slender, flexible, conventionally beautiful female yogis in handstands and advanced arm balances are marketed EVERY WHERE! In yoga magazines, on yoga equipment, in department stores who sell athletic gear (*ahem* Forever 21, H&M, Nike), and even yoga blocks. This persistent image of who "should be" practicing sends a subconscious message that yoga is for American white women, and that if you are man (God forbid a man of color) in a yoga class, you must have lost your self respect and your marbles (pun intended). Add to this the constant socialization through visual media that men who practice yoga are "snowflakes", hippies, or unacceptably over the top spiritual gurus, and you've just created the environment for the belief that "yoga is for women" to not only perpetuate, but flourish. Gender roles are a large slice of the pie when it comes to socially conditioned behaviors deemed acceptable by both men in women in the context of men in yoga spaces. Most men hold their fellow men to a standard of behaviours which keep them imprisoned to muscle tension building activites such as lifting weights, HIIT, and football; yet refusing a yoga practice that improves mobility and reduces risk of injury in the prior mentioned activities.
Also, let's be raw here for a moment, most conventially "masculine" men are embarassed or ashamed to be caught in a downward dog with their booty in the air. It's almost as if they were offering themselves to be sexually mounted. Legitmately, this can be an extremely uncomfortable position if a man has experienced sexual trauma in the form of assault. It is a very vulnerable position to be in. The expression "don't drop the soap" comes to mind. Men do not like to be bent over, understandably, and an average flow yoga class will have one bent over A LOT.